Even if you know it all, sometimes it’s nice to get some outside perspective. Problem is, traditional market research is expensive and often you’re not looking for peer-reviewed double-blinded answers, you just need some direction.
If you have any sort of following on Twitter, Facebook or have your own email database (with the right permissions), the online poll is your best friend. You don’t actually need that many followers to do this, you can easily get a 10% response rate with just a few reminders and some friendly begging. And if you get 50 or 100 answers, you may not be able to publish your results in Science magazine, but it will be good enough to confirm or deny your own instincts.
Some may interject that the results will be heavily skewed by the fact that your followers are not an accurate representation of the world out there. True, but while your followers are (heavily) biased by knowing you, that makes them also biased towards potentially wanting to buy this new product or service that you need some input on, so their feedback may actually be MORE helpful. I don’t need to know if the average person on this planet prefers blue or red, I need to know if the people most likely to be interested in what I’m doing like blue or red.
Of course you have to be careful. Don’t ask a question like “would you buy this widget” and then extrapolate the 50% that reply yes into the conclusion you can sell 3 billion worldwide. Also, the usefulness of a poll is directly related to the quality of the question and answers (in case of multiple-choice) provided, so really spend some time on that and test it on a few people to make sure it’s not confusing in any way. In particular:
- Will people be embarrassed to answer your question truthfully? If so, consider trying a question where you don’t ask their opinion but instead what they think other people’s opinion would be.
- Is it important to weed out some of your followers whose opinion on this particular question you do NOT value? For example, if you have a male grooming question, the answer from the women following you may not matter (or may). So add an answer as an “easy out” for those people, something like “hey, if I ever need this product, I’ve got bigger issues than answering online polls).
Depending on how many questions you have and if you want to spend nothing or merely very little, there are a ton of options available to you. Just google “free online poll” or “cheap online survey” to find them.
I’ve used easypolls.net, mostly because it’s easy and free, but also because they (as well as some others) have a very nice paid feature: geo-tracking. This allows you to not only roughly see where the respondents live, but also what their individual answers were. So if everybody in the US answers red and everybody in Germany prefers blue, you’ll know.
That’s good to know in some cases, as it may lead you to the conclusion that you need separate versions for separate regions (Avoid that complication if you can of course, but sometimes you can’t). Now when I say “paid”, do not worry. The charge is 99 cents!